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Leopard Tank – Reforger, Germany, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

An odd thing happened to me while I was in Germany. I was injured in a tank accident and I still bear the scar on my forehead.

This is me posing in front of one of the tanks – can’t remember which one it was, but some of the vehicles in the background are M113s – used for carrying the infantry sections that add to the “punch” of a mechanized brigade. We are in an armored defensive position somewhere in Hohenfels.

Being new I was still in the process of experiencing the 4th Canadian Mechanized Brigade Grouping, understanding who does what and how it all fit together. 4 CMBG was tasked with plugging an Eastern Bloc advance if things ever came to that – thankfully they didn’t as it’s unlikely that I’d be telling this story if it had.

Shortly after this picture was taken I found myself in the gunners seat of one of these tanks (Leopard). It was nauseating as the whole turret spins both on top of the tank and in a cone down inside the cursed thing.

The Leopard tank cruises in excess of 60 kilometers an hour and so as you hit trees, holes and whatever at those speeds, going backwards,sideways and all ways with no visibility beyond this scope thing in front of you it doesn’t take you long to start feeling motion sickness. The tank can keep going forward on its own long after the crew within it has been battered to death by impacts – it is a truly terrifying machine whose purpose is to crush, incinerate and kill other people in trenches, lesser tanks, houses or wherever they may be hiding. In retrospect – being part of a tank crew – its an odd kind of career to aspire to (but someone has to do it!).

I can’t remember exactly what the reason was, but the other 3 members of the crew had these tanker helmets on and I did not. The crew commander kept shouting to get my face against the sight, but every time I tried we would hit a tree or a hole and it felt like somebody had just punched me in the nose. Incidentally, a tree in a Leopard at 65 KM/hr is not quite the shock that you’d imagine,it’s generally just a bump. I can’t imagine that anyone can actually sight onto a target like that – they had to be having some fun with me (because I was new???).

Having already thrown up I kept trying to do as instructed when suddenly the tank bottomed out into a large crater and I hit the sight full impact in the forehead. I remember the incline when the tank stopped and we were tipped well forward and then the engines gunned and the tank backed up onto a level and started off again. The crew commander and radio operator also took it pretty hard, but the driver seemed unaffected.

I couldn’t feel my face and when I reached up to see if everything was still there it was totally wet with blood. Around this time my vision started closing in and I knew I was soon to faint.

I had a head set on and I was trying to figure out how to operate the thing and I could just hear my two companions shouting and what have you.

The inside of a tank is cramped and full of nasty, sharp and explosive things. Worst of all, down near my feet there was a hatch that connected to the driver’s compartment and when the turret is lined up you can pass through the hatch, but when the turret is turning its like a guillotine – as I was passing out I was sliding down toward the hatch imagining that I was soon to be cut in two. I had heard that Russian tanks were even more difficult to operate, apparently there was some kind of hazard where the guy who operated the gun was sometimes caught up in the mechanism and loaded into the breach. I can only imagine that it would be lethal as a human being is not meant to fit into a tank barrel.

Somebody must have heard me mumbling and gagging on the headset and they finally figured all was not well within the Leopard. Apparently it took some time to stop the thing. I was too out of it by then to know anything, but I do remember trying to find ways to wedge myself in my seat so I did not slide into the scything hatch thing. While still conscious I still had some control, but as I was passing out I rightly believed with all the shaking and slamming of the journey I’d soon be sliding into the guillotine. The driver, though he had backed the tank out of the crater was actually the most messed up of all he was kind of dazed and he just kept plowing on in shock – trees, holes, whatever was in the way just got knocked down.

Anyway, when the tank was finally stopped, not from direction within, but by someone outside, I got hauled out on top of the tank where I was treated along with the others and sent off to a hospital.

Would I want to go in another tank? – absolutely not, its a real scary machine to operate (not that I was in it long enough to get used to it) and even worse to have it coming at you – 600 km range, massive gun and quick to crush anyone who’s not fast enough to get out of the way.

I believe we still have 114 of these bad boys.

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diamond mine, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

Check out Anne Gordon’s incredible description of her descent into South Africa’s Bultfontein Diamond Mine – “Here“.

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Trill Mill Stream, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

My mother worked at Christ Church (Oxford University) and she was the first to bring the Trill Mill Stream to my attention. Pictured here the stream appears deep and slow – coming from under the University into Christ Church Meadow.

At one time the stream actually flowed on the surface, but it was eventually buried. The high walls within which the stream is channeled  (just before it reaches the Thames – or the Isis as they call it in Oxford) is because in the 1800s the vapors coming off the water were blamed for causing a cholera epidemic- hence the idea to contain it. Initial exploration of the stream in the 1920s revealed a rotting Victorian punt wedged somewhere within and populated by 3 human skeletons.

Numerous people have traversed this underground waterway, Lawrence of Arabia did it in a canoe and one enterprising adventurer used a sea plane float. Modern urban explorers record their adventure and reveal an arched roof of bricks, the undersides of numerous manhole covers and a passage that makes at least 6 90 degree turns – finally ending in an iron gate – as seen from the outside it is this incredibly archaic industrial age contraption – a plate of metal that is raised and lowered by a wheel.

In Ronald Knox’s book, “The Hidden Stream; the Mysteries of the Christian Faith” he mentions Trill Mill Stream in his introduction in saying that, “if you know the right turning close by the gas works you may thrust your canoe up to the mill-pool under the castle walls where an entrance hardly more dignified than that of a sewer invites you to leave the noise of Oxford behind, and float down through the darkness.”

If I still lived in Oxford, I would certainly have been one of the explorers. I had at one time entertained the idea of using an air mattress. Now that I live in Canada the gloomy tunnels under Guelph will have to suffice – sadly they do not have the history of the Trill mill stream.

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Tourmaline – Bancroft Gemboree

If I was asked to pick one gem as my favorite, it would definitely be tourmaline. Look at these colors. These cabs are in a tray that was displayed by a merchant at the Bancroft Gemboree.

Red tourmalines are known as “rubellite”, one of the better known deposits being some 30 kilometers south east of Mogok in Burma where the gem is found in an alluvial bed of decomposing gneiss. Chinese miners generally worked this deposit as red tourmaline was needed for the buttons of mandarin’s gowns.

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Paradise Falls, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

I can’t remember what I’ve blogged about this trip so far – so here is the full story (as I remember).

There is this incredible storm drain that is very spectacular (as storm drains go). Many years ago SNFU and I resolved to follow it up as far as we could – this in place of the especially old drains in Niagara falls that I still intend to visit.

Well you enter in a rather public place – at the edge of a highway and the noise from within is quite intimidating. As a caver that sound of water suggested that we were about to be swamped by a flash flood, but it never came so we waded in and soon found ourselves at the bottom of a stairway down which flowed a gush of very cold water.

It was midwinter and though you might not be able to tell, I am wearing a wet suit beneath my coat.

It took us about 40 minutes of careful walking up two flights of stairs to get to the in-fall; a large grate at the edge of a golf course.

The stairs slope toward their center and with the algae build-up and the coldness it was not exactly easy, but we were very pleased to have done it and we rose from about the water level at the lake to the height just at the base of the cliffs. Along the way we had the fortune to observe some rather spectacular rust stalactites which were growing from cracks in the roof from which water poured. We resolved in the spring when the water was higher and warmer to inner-tube the drain from infall to outlet (wearing helmets) but in retrospect, its probably better that we didn’t.

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13C – 3RCR (Hohenfels), originally uploaded by Mic2006.

Looks like our M113 is broken down again. That’s me sitting with my feet on the edge.We are somewhere in Hohenfels (Germany)

Behind me is a 50 cal. I can’t recall the exact issue with the APC, but I believe it was something to do with the track tension which seemed to be an on-going thing.

What I later came to regard as quite odd was that not everyone in the section knew how to use the 50 cal. I believe you needed a special course. In the British Infantry (as I later joined the British Army), if there was a weapon in your section – you knew how to use it.

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Behave Yourself! – Rockwatching Blogging Protocal

 

scan0001, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

Well, Rockwatching has been up and running for a number of years now (5 to be exact) and I believe it has contributed significantly to the interest of people like myself who like caving, rocks, the outdoors, gems and minerals in Ontario.

We are just a few short days from 2011 and I believe it’s high time we made some resolutions -all of us  (you my loyal fellow bloggers as well).

So in the interests of all involved a few ground rules to follow on Rockwatching from now on

1) Lets not carry a personal vendetta onto this site which is meant to be a forum where like minded enthusiasts can interact in a positive way.
2) Lets respect each other and try not to get personal when we are frustrated.
3) Lets respect the basics of conservation and eco-minded thought.
4) Lets not assume stuff we don’t know for sure (hence the survey at the bottom of the post).
5) Lets keep in mind that this is all about enjoyment.
6) Lets keep in mind that just because the topic is on the table, every single aspect that pertains to it is not an open book.
7) Lets respect people who are not on the site, private property, reputations etc. Just because there is discussion of a site or feature does not mean permission has been granted to go there.

8) Lets not get petty, self righteous or important. Stop correcting my grammar, spelling or use of terms. I am a writer at heart and so I believe I can use the language as I please (providing it’s in good taste, or if I choose, not in good taste).

9) Lets not waste my time by having to re-direct you to one of the above rules.

Happy and prosperous 2011 – Mick

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Marmora Cave – Ontario

You can pretty well tell that this picture was taken in one of the Marmora caves. The rock in that area, though much the same as that in Dewdney’s Cave (Bobcaygeon Formation) is wickedly sharp – comparatively, the rock in Dewdney’s is much smoother.

This tunnel was formed above the water table by water running along a joint, you can see the wear along the wall and the incision inward along a bedding plane.

In the spring these particular tunnels are entirely submersed by running water and so bats seem not to find them suitable as a hibernaculum, in fact, in my experience, most of the tunnels in the Marmora area are unpopulated by bats.

Looking at a map in the winter /spring issue of the Toronto Caver the progression of “White Nose Syndrome” in bats appears to have made it into Southern Ontario this year (2010). The disease was first seen in 2006 in Schoharie New York. Initially the White Nose Syndrome is thought to have spread southwards in the States, but mysteriously it was not confirmed to be present until it was discovered at several sites including Moira in 2010

By the map in the Toronto Caver it would appear that distribution of White Nose Syndrome is on a North/South axis – in fact quite narrowly confined to certain areas. As Kirk MacGregor says, the fungus responsible for the symptoms that are referred to as “White Nose Syndrome” (Geomyces destructans) has been identified as far north as Kirkland Lake and yet at this time there is no evidence of it being east of Ottawa.

Geographically you would wonder what it is that is defining the spread of disease … Travel patterns of the bat?

Below I copy an excerpt from an e-mail that a friend and I were bouncing back and forth in Feb. 2008 …

“not being a bat scientist or anything, but would the fungus not be indicative of what is going on inside. Is the fungus growing on some kind of sputum that the bat is exhaling? What type of medium does this fungus usually grow on? Is there any connection between that and the sputum? How fast does this come on? Consider that the bat is dormant and its body temperature drops so drastically – what kind of weird virus would grow inside a creature at those temperatures? Does the bats temperature rise – might that be what is killing it? Notice in the picture(although it is only one picture), but the bats in the middle of the picture are most heavily affected and as you get further away, the fungus seems to be growing less profusely. I wonder if that suggests the bat in the middle was affected first and then the disease spread outward from him – spread in situ that is – as the bats were dormant. I wonder if the disease is even cave related as bats obviously leave the cave. Can the bat act as an incubator like the pig does in transferring influenza from the chicken to the human and mutating it along the way?

Lots of questions 2 years ago and yet, no doubt answers will eventually follow.

Information for this post in part, was obtained from an article in the Toronto Caver …

MacGregor Kirk, “White Nose Syndrome Moves into Southern Ontario, published by The Toronto Caver, The Toronto Caver Winter and Spring 2010, pg. 5

Map showing distribution of White Nose Syndrome as of 12th of May 2010. Map by Cal Butchkoski, PA Game Commission.

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Michael14, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

Somewhere above some pretty deep shafts that lead down to Friar’s Hole this lama used to live. I was returning from one such shaft and he followed me – more like terrorized me, just kind of pacing along behind. I’ve had a few weird experiences with lamas so …

Any way, off that particular topic, but on the topic of cave shafts, check out these cave base jumps. Not a sport I’d considered before, but it looks amazing, as the Chinese guide says in a massive understatement, “Everybody will have an exciting day today” …

Cave of the Swallows – Mexican cave base jump

Cave Base Jumping in Oman – Base jump in Oman

Chinese Cave Jump – Chinese sinkhole jump

Down the shaft – another of the Cave of the Swallows

Guatemala Sinkholes – How sinkholes form

It’s Timmay – something just a little different

Rubber rafting it – a deviation from cave jumping!

Detroit – Sneaky Base jump

Just a bit much – Fainting

If you are wondering why no update on broken rowboat cave, its serious snow up there right now and neither JC or myself can hack through that kind of terrain in those conditions and also I’m working like a mad man to finish off my next book – it’s now a week overdue. Keep your eyes peeled – “Tamarindo”,  Published by Edgehill Press.

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This picture was taken on a recent exploration that JC and I did in an area that has long been suspected of being “cave rich”.

In Ongley’s long forgotten cave manuscript he relates the impression at the time of Ontario being a cave desert – a paucity of karst! not so! Theres lots of caves in Ontario you just gotta find them. Marcus Buck said that 90 -95% of Ontario’s caves are found beside a road or path – still true, its because of our rugged terrain and people’s unwillingness to hack through the bush. JC and I do that quite often and sometimes we hit lucky.

My book on Ontario’s cave geography “Rockwatching” is again available at Amazon. It appears that it had risen quite significantly in price while it was out of print – Teebooks1 – $156.13, The_Meirin_USA – $94.00, and any_book for – $56.46.

Rockwatching is back on at Amazon for $20.96 – buy it and stop e-mailing me for directions to caves, you’ll learn in the book how to figure those out for yourselves.

But for now, I hope to update you in the next month or so on our further explorations of Broken Rowboat cave – it all depends on whether the location is totally snowed in for the winter or not. It’s a hike of several kilometers through some pretty rugged terrain.

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